War On The Waterfront

Australian Workers Film Guide


This short documentary looks back at the wars on the waterfront. There is a dramatisation of the “bastard boys” in Melbourne on April 7, 1998, with hired armed guards and dogs on the wharfs. The workers head for their loaders to defend themselves. They were told that “You are trespassing” and they had to leave the premises. The ABC news reported how Patrick Stevedore sacked its entire union workforce, a total of 17 wharf sites around the country. Government legislation made this possible, endorsed by both government and the company as a defense measure against their interests. The Union declared war on the company. Legislation made it prohibitive to take industrial action. The workers united in peaceful assemblies, and in an extended court battle.

The women of the waterfront kept up the supply of food for the picket lines. Kim Beasley declared that, “this is John Howard’s Australia”. The American Union pitched in and refused to un-load an Australian ship, on the grounds that it was loaded by “scab” labour. The ship, the Columbus Canada, had to return back to Australia loaded. There was also support from British unions, and this international solidarity has been the strategy ever since. The eventual victory was a warning to every worker in the country, that if the government and the companies can destroy the MUA, no workers would be safe. When back, they had to re-negotiate a new agreement with Patrick. Some workers decided not to go back to their former jobs, they never got over the betrayal, and moved on to other industries. It was “the struggle we had to win, and we did win” Paddy Crumlin said of the dispute. The only thing standing between the multi-national corporate interests and the workers’ rights are the unions.

Special Notes/Achievements

Part of a collection of short videos presented at the Maritime Union of Australia’s 2008 International Solidarity Conference.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 19 mins 3 secs

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